Sermon – September 24, 2017
Galatians 1:1-5 – The Gospel as the Finished Work of God (mp3)
There is a problem in the Galatian churches. Paul senses that they are being swayed away from the truth of the gospel by those who would have them accept circumcision in order to be thought of as the people of God. For Paul, this is a concession that nullifies the cross of Christ, and threatens the Galatians with condemnation. Rather, Paul sees the gospel as something that is done fully by God for us: the good news is God’s wholly, and while it is given to us, it is not accomplished by us. In this brief introduction, Paul notes three things that are wholly a work of God:
1. The message of the gospel (v. 1a)
Paul starts by affirming that his commission as an apostle does not come from man, but rather from God himself. But don’t be deceived! Paul is not therefore simply claiming to be an authority over the Galatians, that they should listen to him. While that might be true, he is claiming something more important. The gospel itself is not subject to any human authority, no one has the right or even the ability to change the true center and core of the gospel, not even Paul himself. The message of the gospel is God’s, and God’s alone.
2. The merit of the gospel (v. 1b)
Why should people, even the Galatians, accept the truths of the gospel? Why should Jesus be thought of as the Christ, when other messiah figures have arisen, and even been killed? Why should we think that his death has freed us from our sin, promises to justify us, opening for us adoption and heaven? Not because of how we feel, or the effect the gospel has had in others’ lives. No, the merit, the trustworthiness of the gospel stands and falls on this: The Father has raised Jesus from the grave. The merit of the gospel is a finished act of God.
3. The meaning of the gospel (v. 4)
We likely think that Christ gave himself for our sins that we might be forgiven. While true, Paul paints a much broader picture of what Jesus’ sacrifice achieved: it has freed us from the oppression of the present evil age. We, born into a fallen world, can only act under the authority of that fallen world, which means that we are simply slaves to our sin. We are therefore helpless to enact our own salvation, even if we knew we needed it! But Christ, by taking our sins away, has freed us from our oppression, and opens up the possibility of life before God.
Friends, the gospel is good news only because we can add nothing to it. We cannot make ourselves more appealing to God, more worthy of salvation, more justified before him. Christ alone is what we need. This is the theme of Galatians; let it be the theme of our lives. “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling!”